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Alfano v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 19, 2018

BRYANNA K. ALFANO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Bryanna K. Alfano proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Child's Disability Benefits (CDB) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda of record, this matter is AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1996.[1] She has an 11th-grade education, and has never worked. (AR 206-07.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI and CDB in August 2014. (AR 177-92.) Those applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 107-13, 116-27, 142-43.)

         On June 7, 2016, ALJ John Michaelson held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 39-66.) On July 12, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 20-34.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 25, 2017 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2000). At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is gainfully employed. The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. (AR 22.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's depression and anxiety with agoraphobia. (AR 23-25.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 26-29.)

         If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following additional limitations: she can have no more than occasional interaction with supervisors and no more than brief superficial interaction with co-workers and the general public. (AR 29.)

         Because Plaintiff has no past work (AR 32), the ALJ proceeded to step five, where the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate at step five that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to work that exists in significant levels in the national economy. With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of transitioning to representative occupations including industrial cleaner, lab equipment cleaner, and laundry worker. (AR 32-33.)

         This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to whether the decision is in accordance with the law and the findings supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in (1) discounting her subjective symptom testimony, and (2) assessing certain medical evidence and opinions.[2] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         Subjective ...


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